ASU Professor on Dr. Phil: Cultural Appropriation Equal to Racism, White Supremacy

ASU Professor on Dr. Phil: Cultural Appropriation Equal to Racism, White Supremacy

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona State University (ASU) professor Neal Lester said that cultural appropriation is equivalent to racism and white supremacy, specifically claiming it lacked humanity.

Lester — an English professor at ASU for 26 years and founder of ASU’s social justice-focused initiative, Project Humanities — made these remarks during a September episode of “Dr. Phil.”

“We can say the same thing about racism, sexism, homophobia. Just because you can’t solve it and don’t see it at every corner doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of it and trying to address it,” said Lester. “I put [cultural appropriation] on the same level as white supremacy, because white supremacy is intersectional.”

Lester added that cultural appropriation was not only inhumane, but disrespectful. “Dr. Phil” host, Phil McGraw, pointed out that not everyone who puts on other cultural items was necessarily doing so in a manner intending comedic effect. Lester responded that even those instances would be reductive, performative, and ultimately disrespectful of those from that culture. 

“You’re getting some kind of cultural capital by doing it,” said Lester. “It’s not necessarily who’s hurt by it, it’s who is disrespected by it. A whole culture of people whose identities are wrapped in whatever you’re dressing into and can then take off.”

The focus of the “Dr. Phil” episode, “Appropriation Nation: Has it Gone Too Far?”, concerned in part a 2018 controversy after an 18-year-old Utah teenager, Keziah Daum, posted her wearing a qipao dress to prom. A 20-year-old University of Utah student at the time, Jeremy Lam, quote-tweeted the post with the viral comment, “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress.” 

Lam later told outlets that Daum’s outfit was a sign of racism. His original caption on Daum’s dress inspired months of memes, where social media users would use the phrase in their own captions when reposting others’ outfits.

Though Lam and a select few social media users at the time claimed Daum’s outfit choice was cultural appropriation, Daum revealed in September’s “Dr. Phil” episode that China invited her to its Qipao Festival to be their guest of honor.

“They loved the fact that someone from America was taking in a part of their culture and showing their appreciation for it,” said Daum. “I wasn’t appropriating it. I wore it because it was a beautiful dress and I appreciated it.”

The episode also addressed content created by former Prager University influencer, Will Witt, in which he wore outfits depicting various cultures on college campuses and then in areas dominated by the culture reflective of that outfit. Witt wore outfits representative of Native American, Mexican, and Chinese cultures. Only those on college campuses expressed negative sentiment toward Witt’s outfits, a majority of whom didn’t hail from the areas dominated by the culture while those in the areas reflective of his outfits expressed positive sentiment. 

“The only people who are actually offended by cultural appropriation don’t really have anything else of meaning going on in their lives, it seems,” said Witt. “[Cultural appropriation] is a thing created by elitist white people who don’t really ever talk to these people in these cultures.”

Lester likened cultural appropriation to plagiarism. Witt said Lester’s comments proved him to be one of the “anti-white, ivory tower professors” attempting to domineer cultural norms. 

Watch the full episode below:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to